(Posted 04th March 2022)
For Petrolheads, the sound of an engine is like the sound of God, sex and the beauty of engineering all rolled into one. The sound creeps up from the soles of your feet, picked up from the rumbling ground and transmitted up your spine to the hairs on the back of your neck and arms; and then your brain stops functioning for a micro-second as you take it all in.
It’s an addiction, make no mistake, and throw in the element of competition and you have a combo that will make a man (or woman) spend ALL their money, on just one race.
By the 8th of February, I had given up all hopes of chasing rally, given that the media accreditation deadline was on the 24th of Jan and I only got the chance to apply 6 days later. However, a random phone call on the 9th Feb revealed that I had in fact been accredited and was being invited to come pick it at the Naivasha podium start. I didn’t care that I had not yet sold the story, I was going to cover The GREATEST rally in the world: The EAST AFRICAN CLASSIC SAFARI RALLY.
I imagine that it was after a night of intoxication on “miirah” in the 1950s African bush that Eric Cecil and his buddy/cousin Neil Vincent conceived the idea of a rally across 5000km of ‘hostile” terrain, complete with wild animals and random locals in full regalia cheering them on. This is why it grew to be the most challenging race in the world and I for one was not going to miss out on the action. I spent the night of the 9th Feb awake, packing my gear and “channaring mogoks” like any decent long-distance lorry driver would, adding fuel to the fire that was my juvenile excitement. I had not chased rally since I was 10 years old with my heroic late father.
4am of Feb 10th saw me backseat of a Nissan Bluebird 2008, heading for the podium start at the Naivasha Kenya Wildlife Services headquarters. The rally would be passing directly through 3 national parks, Naivasha Amboseli and Tsavo, therefore the wildlife had to be protected and regulations adhered to. The producer and his assistant that I had travelled with went to park the car and I was left transfixed by all the glittering rainbow coloured, graffiti tagged with endorsements machinery spread out for my viewing pleasure. The producer’s female assistant appeared by my camouflage-jacket side and proceeded to take pictures, clad in a flared little purple dress with pom-poms on her patent leather ankle boots. It occurred to me then that perhaps the producer’s aim was not so much to chase rally… That was a premonition I should have noted earlier.
The cars were not your modern Subaru nonsense with steering wheels like Playstation and computerised baubles that stop the car as soon as one button stops functioning, but were real stripped down to the bone-basics 1984 Tuthill Porsches with manual transmission (13 of them), Triumph TR7s (Carl Flash Tundo in car no2 and his father Frank in car no 14), Ford Escort Mk2 from the 1980s and even a 1985 Skoda 130LR/S and 2 Renault “Quatre-Quatre” from the 70s. The champion of the previous race, Baldev Chager, was also in a Porsche 911 sponsored by Kenyan sugar barons Kabras, to be challenged by American sensation Ken Block, also in a Porsche 911 from the 80s. My favourite was a gun-metal grey 50-year-old Datsun 240Z. Real war machines that make real noise and purr like cats when stroked well. I always say, the quality of the noise is what makes the car, and no I am sorry Subaru does not do it for me. Look at me ending a paragraph with a double negative… Clever will kill me one day.
We had no rally daybook that day but had our Rally Media car sticker and so had a blast driving from stop to stop asking people where the rally was between Naivasha, Nakuru and Baringo county, until my producer/driver friend suggested we “go to the lake” on our way back to Park Fermé at Sarova Woodlands Nakuru. I had assumed he meant a lake in that general direction. Instead, we ended up in the opposite direction, 50km into Lake Bogoria National Park, $40 in fuel and park fees poorer, with said driver insisting on going forward yet with no clue where to find the desired hot springs in the fast-approaching mauve night. I bit my tongue until it almost bled. When he finally acquiesced to being hopelessly lost, we turned around and had to drive another 200km back to base and another $20 in fuel down.
I was furious. And then I had to pay $90 for all our dinners at Sarova, for which was rewarded with snips and sarcasm from little miss pom-pom booties. I politely sent them on their way before I committed murder, and installed myself at the Kunste Hotel Nakuru, directly opposite Sarova, with the rally starting point in between so I could hear the purr of the cars when I woke in the morning. I called it a night and blacked.
Broke but determined at 6am the next morning, I went and had a sumptuous breakfast at Sarova Woodland Nakuru (Chief-Blagger me!) before proceeding to the field opposite at the fairy light adorned starting point, to do interviews and hustle the media crew for space in their vans to chase the rally with them. I even tried to bully the helicopter crew to squeeze in just one more little Captain in the back but no can do. I had to turn back, retreat and regroup but not surrender. I called Mr Producer friend and we slowly drove back to Nairobi, after consoling ourselves with French toast from a nice little roadside food-court, and an apology from little miss pom-poms.
Rally Part Deux report coming up next week. Keep it locked.
For more info and picture of the East African Classic Safari rally:
To watch THE FOMO TRAVEL SHOW EP82 CHASING RALLY: